Three leaders had a significant impact on the modern history and politics of Hungary. What connects them and what makes each of them different?

Looking at the past hundred years of politics in Hungary, it becomes clear that the longest periods are spanned by just three politicians: Miklós Horthy (1920-1944), János Kádár (1956-1988), and Viktor Orbán (1998-2002 and from 2010 to the present).[1] During the past 100 years, the three leaders spent 70 in power.

Those who believe that the three have had a significant impact on Hungarian politics are certainly not wrong, and it might not be a coincidence either that Hungarians more than tolerated the three statesmen for such a long time.

What connects these leaders, and what are the differences between them?


Miklós Horthy (1868-1957) was born in Kenderes east of river Tisza in Hungary. He was running an electoral authoritarian regime in the interwar period. Although elections were held, they were not free; the governing party always won. Except for the major cities, an open voting system prevailed, which entailed that landowners and their apparatus could easily threaten their household servants, farmhands, and the peasants who worked their fields. Left-wing and liberal parties were allowed only to function only in Budapest.

Horthy’s regime was rooted in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and in the failure of the post-First World War revolutions. His regime signed the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, which brought an enormous territorial loss for Hungary.

Even though Horthy himself had no ideological bent, his regime was still based on strong ideological foundations that were used for indoctrination in schools, the party press, and in the Parliament: it was a Christian-nationalist ideology which shifted the blame to liberals and communists for the country’s First World War defeat and identified its own priority as reclaiming the lost territories.

As Hungary was not allowed to have a sizeable army, the regime put special emphasis on the dissemination of revanchist propaganda in schools and cultural institutions. The regime’s ambition was to train a cultivated and self-conscious nationalist following through the development of the school system, in order to outperform surrounding peoples and to reintegrate them, should the opportunity arise to reclaim the lost territories. This was the notion of “cultural supremacy”.

Miklós Horthy was the governor (officially rendered in English as regent) of a kingdom without a king. He began his career in the Austro-Hungarian navy; sailed around the world in his youth, been to India and Africa, and lived the ordinary life of a navy officer.

Later, he became an adjutant of Emperor-King Franz Joseph I; then he fought the war as a rear-admiral until 1918. He had always claimed to have remained loyal to the monarch, admired maritime empires, above all, colonialist Great Britain, and showed little understanding of the political context that had led to the disintegration of the monarchy. He knew little about the actual state of society, or the standards of living of the population decimated and impoverished by the war.

However, as he did not participate in domestic political battles, the recurrent right-wing establishment found its political leader in him. As a military officer, he could start his career with a clean sheet; moreover, his figure served as a bridge between pre- and post-war political elites.

He cracked down mercilessly on the supporters of the 1918 liberal republic and the 1919 communist experiment and seized de facto power during the fall of 1919, thanks to the white terror he had initiated. He was elected regent in a somewhat rigged parliamentary procedure in March 1920.

Horthy, who had long been a loyal monarchist, could only strengthen his power through treason. With his troops, he chased away Charles IV (Charles I of Austria) who aspired to return to the Hungarian throne. The national assembly declared the dethronement of the Habsburg dynasty; however, Horthy did not have the courage to change the country’s form of government; thus Hungary remained a kingdom lead by – according to his official title His Highest Excellency, the Regent of the Hungarian Kingdom.

As regent, Horthy stood above the executive power; he selected and appointed the prime minister but did not interfere with the daily operation of the government. The economic stability of the late 1920s solidified his reputation, while his position as a Head of state distanced him from the ephemeral waves of politics, and gradually elevated him into the symbolic position of the “father of the nation”.

Miklós Horthy and Adolf Hitler

Turned governor from a navy officer, Horthy had been raised in a traditional, 19th-century milieu. He possessed mediocre intellectual skills; he was a pro-England globalist and, at the same time, a provincial anti-Semite. He advocated domestic industrialisation but did nothing for land reform. He was not a Nazi; he believed in “gentlemen’s honour”; he looked down on Hitler.

Nevertheless, revanchism; nationalism, and the ideology of political Christianity, as well as the hope of reclaiming lost territories made him an ally of Hitler’s Germany. Elevating Christianity into politics blurred the boundaries between state and Church; the biggest Hungarian churches became supporters of the regime. Only Christians were considered “good Hungarians” which early on laid the foundations for social and political discrimination against Jews.

Horthy’s regime was a semi-feudalistic, strongly hierarchical, parliamentary authoritarian, “neo-baroque” regime which shifted towards Nazism from the mid-1930s, adopted anti-Jewish legislation in 1938, and become an (at times volatile) ally of Germany in 1941. The country was invaded by the Germans in 1944 as they lost trust in the cooperation of their Hungarian allies. However, Horthy was left in power as a governor until October 1944.

Thus, the deportation to Auschwitz and the murder of nearly half a million Hungarian Jews from everywhere outside the capital took place during his term as a regent of Hungary.

When the Soviet troops were approaching, Horthy made an attempt to quit the war, but his attempt ended in failure: the Germans captured and transferred him to German territory. After the Second World War, it was only thanks to the intervention of Stalin, who appreciated Horthy’s attempt to surrender to the Soviet Union in October 1944 that he could avoid being held accountable before an international court.

For many, Horthy’s legacy remains ambivalent. On the one hand, the country’s education system developed significantly, and its economic performance improved. Although there was no chance whatsoever for the alternation of power in politics, a multiparty system still remained intact, and the voice of the opposition could be heard in the Parliament until the German invasion in 1944. The press had been relatively free from the beginning of the 1920s until the second half of the 1930s.

At the same time, the regime preserved authoritarian, patriarchal social relations built on master and slave relations within which millions were deprived of the opportunity to better their lives as well as obtain civic and political rights.

In the end, the Horthy regime said farewell in the most tragic way possible: with the death of more than a hundred thousand soldiers and the annihilation of more than half a million Hungarian citizens of Jewish descent.


János Kádár (1912-1989) was born in Fiume (today Rijeka in Croatia) as János Csermanek during the monarchic era, raised among difficult circumstances, first by foster parents, then by his mother. He met the illegal activists of the communist movement when he worked as a mechanic.

His deep-seated concerns regarding social inequalities and injustice led him to join the marginal Hungarian communist movement.

The young communist activist who had changed his name to Kádár when he was 21 was not an ideologue; he had a hard time with theories and always preferred practice instead. Speaking in retrospect, he once claimed that the only piece of Marx’ and Engels’ oeuvre that truly appealed to him and which he read all the way through was Anti-Dühring. He was a simple, socially conservative man who liked playing chess, enjoyed the life of the proletariat just as much as potato soup, and stayed with his wife he met through the party apparatus for a lifetime.

After the Second World War, Kádár became suspect to Mátyás Rákosi and the rest of the new communist leaders. The reason for it was that he was not one of the communists who had returned from Moscow after the war, but was one of their homeland comrades whom Stalin did not consider reliable.

Moreover, in 1943, Kádár and his peers changed the name of the illegal communist party to the Peace Party in order to avoid detention and recruit more supporters. Nevertheless, as a Minister of Interior, Kádár belonged to the second line of the party leadership at the beginning of the Rákosi era until he was arrested in 1951 and spent years in prison.

Kádár’s treason took shape during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution after he declared as minister of state that he will fight the incoming Soviet tanks with his bare hands if needed. Instead, he disappeared the day after, was taken to Moscow by the Soviets, and returned as the representative of the post-revolutionary retaliation, bearing the First Secretary title of the re-established communist party.

Although Kádár was handpicked by the Soviets as a leader, this choice was not a coincidence as he was not a Moscovite, and even though Rákosi and his peers imprisoned him, he was no loyal supporter of Imre Nagy either. He walked his own path, even if it was not obvious.

One could hardly find a man more hated in the country at the turn of 1956-1957. One and a half years later, he caused Imre Nagy, the prime minister of the Revolution, to be hanged. He had not been ordered to do so by Moscow; the execution of Nagy was on Kádár’s own initiative. His treason was thus complete, and its shadow accompanied him throughout his life.

What Kádár learnt from the Rákosi regime and the Revolution was that political repression can only be sustained if the leader provides material compensation to his people. The post-revolutionary retaliation ended by 1960. In 1963, Kádár declared amnesty for political prisoners. That’s when the “real Kádár era” that lasted until the late 1970s began. It was based on the continuous rise of living standards, the pacification and at the same time atomisation and neutralisation of the people.

“Whoever is not against us is with us” – he declared, followed by economic reforms and a higher level of cultural openness from the mid-1960s. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarian citizens bought their first flats, cars, and televisions started building weekend houses near Lake Balaton. Citizens could even travel to Western countries every third year.

People learned that the regime provided them with relative safety if they did not demand political freedom. That’s when Hungary became the “happiest barrack” in the Eastern bloc.

The original sin, i.e. the Revolution of 1956, had to be forgotten. Kádár, a pragmatist, did not want to force another ideology upon society. As he knew that communist propaganda irritated people, he left them alone and concentrated on preserving his power. Although 1956 was officially regarded as a “counterrevolution”, in fact, he chose not to speak about it. The rulers, as well as the people, wanted to forget.

Like a good chess player, Kádár managed to avoid being replaced like other leaders in the Eastern bloc, such as Dubček, Ulbricht, and Gomułka. He had always denied that his politics resulted in the creation of a “Hungarian model”, as he did not want to provoke Moscow’s anger. Nevertheless, the mixture of economic decentralisation and political monopoly made the Hungarian system truly specific within the bloc.

The Kádárian compromise could only be sustained as long as the economy grew. The regime was only liked by the people as long as it provided them with a predictable, stable framework to live in. Kádár tried to counter the economic recession starting in 1978 from foreign loans. The borrowed sums were spent on sustaining consumption.

However, when it turned out that reforms were needed, it also became apparent that the indebted state socialist system could not be reformed. The ageing Kádár could not and did not want to keep up with the pace of Gorbachev’s reforms, he understood less and less the nature of the economic crisis and the need for change.

Kádár was finally removed from office through the rebellion of the intra-party apparatus. It can even be considered symbolic that he died a year later, on 6 July 1989, the day when the court ruled in favour of the legal rehabilitation of the executed Imre Nagy and his peers.

Kádár’s legacy is ambivalent.  On the one hand, people refer with nostalgia to the period in which relative social equality was coupled with economic growth when even manual workers could afford a two-week holiday at Lake Balaton.

At the same time, the Kádár regime was a dictatorship all the way through, where “elections” organised as a mere formality did not provide alternatives, and where the existence of the repressive one-party system could be felt by all ranks of society. It is usually mentioned among Kádár’s deeds that he created better circumstances in Hungary than in the rest of the countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Nevertheless, the regime’s downfall through a bloodless revolution in 1989 reflected popular demand. No one wanted the regime to persist, including members of the state party. At the end of the Kádár era, Hungary was much farther from Western Europe both economically and culturally than it was 60 years before.

However, Hungary had several major “transformation” advantages relative to the other Central and Eastern European countries.


Viktor Orbán in 1989

Viktor Orbán, who was born in Székesfehérvár (1963), raised in a nearby village, Felcsút, and for some time aspired to be a football player, grew up in a family dominated by the figure of a strong father, while his mother always stayed in the back. Orbán’s political career path remains unfinished as of today. He entered the stage in a much more fortunate period than his predecessors, during the international fall of the communist regime, as a dedicated supporter of liberal democracy.

However, Orbán was already so ambitious at the start as to become soon obvious that he was a man mesmerised by power. His political career has already been analysed in hundreds of articles; therefore, I focus on his youth, his early years.

The young Orbán played a leading role since the very first moment of his political career. His party was founded with his active participation on 30 March 1988 – back then as an independent youth and political organisation. The young men who convened the first summit only wanted to issue a memorandum of understanding about launching the future organisation and planned to form the association only after enough people joined.

However, the then 24-year-old Orbán opposed the principle of gradualism and urged the immediate formation of the organisation. He didn’t want to waste a single day to act. He also insisted that the word “socialist” not be included in the name of the new organisation. His arguments convinced the majority, and the Alliance of Young Democrats was founded that evening as a youth organisation.

Although the police summoned and threatened the founders, the regime was not determined to take tougher measures. However, the news about the police warrants spread quickly, and hundreds joined Fidesz in a matter of weeks. In its founding declaration, Fidesz did not only lay down overarching liberal principles but also identified its political opponent and set the goal of breaking the power monopoly of the Young Communist League.

These young people first met in the advanced college movement of the eighties. This peculiar intellectual/semi-intellectual group was the first to transform into an openly political organisation during the democratic transition. They were jurists, economists, scholars and tutors at the start of their careers.

However, their professional training was gradually overshadowed by the opportunity of becoming politicians. They entered politics straight from the benches of the university. Orbán finished his legal studies and wrote the equivalent of an American MA thesis on the Polish Solidarity movement.

Then thanks to the Soros Foundation, he joined the Central Europe research group and could even attend the University of Oxford for a year as a fellow. However, he returned after three months to immerse himself into Hungarian politics.

The only internally transparent, collectivist world of university dorms favoured future politicians with strong verbal skills, determination and readiness to act, who could make a significant impression on their peers thanks to their radical appeal. Because they sensed neither fierce opposition nor unquestionable taboos from the communist bureaucracy, their criticism of the regime assumed a pragmatic character.

From the outset, Fidesz opted for quick, hit-and-run style of actions that left their political opponents unprepared. The opponent was initially the YCL, however, later on, the whole regime became an opponent.

The group did not have time to take roots in the Kádár regime. The most determining figures of Fidesz were first-generation intellectuals born in the countryside; they studied at Budapest universities and developed ties with the democratic opposition during their studies.

Viktor Orbán stated about the communist regime: “From 1983 on, I saw that this political regime was constantly retreating. I never saw the communist regime in its full power, in its sheer brutality. Not even when I was beaten and detained for twelve hours on 16 June 1988, because the interesting thing was not that I was detained, but that they had to release me”.[2]

Fidesz mostly concentrated young people who had a strong desire to move up in the social hierarchy. They put all their eggs in one basket, that of political success. Many of them walked through the path of social and geographical mobility within a span of ten years, while for others, it took generations.

They viewed not only the party-state establishment but also the university leadership with suspicion; moreover, after a while, they also lost trust in opposition elites. They did not want to assimilate into the Budapest elite, they wanted to surpass and defeat it. In Fidesz, the strongest aspirations for power could be found in those who came from the countryside.

Men were extremely overrepresented in Fidesz’ delegation at the 1989 roundtable negotiations: only two women accompanied 26 men. Out of the 26 men, 22 had served their military term before attending university, and 14 attended colleges for advanced studies during their college years. Moreover, seven of them stayed in the colleges as tutors after their graduation.

Two-thirds of Fidesz’s negotiators were made up by the cohort born between 1959 and 1964. This indicates very strong cohesion within the party leadership. While the informal network of Fidesz has been replaced almost entirely within the past 30 years, the inner core of the party has remained intact.

This core was cemented by its origins from rural towns, its masculinity, respect for social hierarchy, and ambition to successfully climb the social ladder, as well as years spent together in closed organisations, such as the military, and colleges for advanced studies. The social conservativism they brought from home was temporarily replaced by following the liberal zeitgeist at the dawn of their careers.

However, after their successful and quick upward mobility, the party’s leadership became part of the new political elite and thus found it easier to get rid of its founding principles and return to its traditional roots from 1994 on.

From the 28-strong Fidesz delegation that attended the 1989 negotiations, only seven have remained members of the party, six of whom came from rural towns. They are still influential politicians within Fidesz, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, President János Áder, and Speaker of the House László Kövér.

The leaders of Fidesz did not use ideological references to contrast the state ideology that was on the brink of corrosion anyway, they rather confronted rights with the existing legislation. They were radical and anti-ideological at the same time. This seems like a paradox, as radical movements are usually ideological throughout the world.

However, in this case, radicalism meant the radicalism of actions, not of ideas. Fidesz supported the unity of the opposition but was against premature talks with the MSZPMP as well as the politics of “national reconciliation” proposed by the state party.

They thought that there was no reconciliation without a breakup. That’s why Viktor Orbán said at the 1989 reburial of Imre Nagy that the youth respected Imre Nagy for having broken up with his communist commitments for the sake of his people.

At certain instances, Fidesz played the role of a “battering ram” at the negotiations, starting with the fact that it was the least convinced of all opposition parties about the inevitability of negotiations. Fidesz was an ally of the larger liberal party (SZDSZ) which grew out of dissident intellectual movements. The principal role of Fidesz was to speed up the transition process. It always took the most radical position, which then served as a basis of compromises. The group’s radicalism was not only shaped by its demand for transition, but also by its demand for elite replacement. It was driven by their deep-seated anti-communist attitude.

As one of their negotiators explained in 1997: “I believe that a total generational change would be needed in the Hungarian elite. Fidesz was the start of this generational change. They were the ones who radically claimed that the past needed to be left behind”[3]. From this generational angst, it also becomes obvious that, paradoxically, Fidesz was an intellectual and an anti-intellectual party at the same time.

It is not a coincidence that the party’s leaders emphasised on several occasions that Fidesz did not wish to provide youth supply to any political organisation.

In what ways was Orbán’s approach different from that of such dominant politicians of the era as the conservative József Antall or the liberal Péter Tölgyessy? According to Orbán, the difference was that he was the one who could best translate opposition ideas into the realm of specific political measures.

“There is a good idea, but what derives from it? Recognising the position of our opponent, how can we use this argument? If the argument is excellent, how should it be used in a way to get what we want as an outcome? So, I could see immediately that no one else there possessed this skill but I”.[4]

Fidesz has continuously functioned as a parliamentary party since 1990, spent 13 years in government, and is still in power at the time these lines are written. From the thirty-year history of the party, the first five were characterised by collective leadership, then Orbán became the party leader for 23 years, and he still is. (The reason that it’s not 25 is that he handed over party leadership to László Kövér and Zoltán Pokorni for one year each.)

During the past ten years, the party has played a subordinate role in shaping politics and serves as one of the many apparatuses that support Orbán.

In the past three decades, Orbán has made three major political turnabouts. The first turn of an ideological nature occurred in 1993-94, when he navigated his party away from a liberal to a conservative direction, but then parted from conservativism and is now pursuing a nationalist, ethnicist, populist politics.

The ideological turn was only surprising for the first time, since then it has become clear that Orbán is an opportunistic politician who is not driven by ideology but by his power interests exclusively. Therefore, Fidesz has walked through the ideological spectrum, moreover, several shades of ideologies, always in line with political necessities. However, as ideology constrains action, Orbán tries to discuss it as little as possible.

The second organisational turn occurred in 2003 when Orbán monopolised authority in his party through the change of its statutes.

Finally, the third turn came in 2010 when Orbán – parting with his views articulated in opposition – started to dismantle liberal democracy in government and created the first non-democratic regime of the European Union.

Using the highly adequate term of Ágnes Heller, this regime can be described as a “postmodern tyranny” which does not follow the recipe of 20th-century authoritarian regimes but relies upon selective, socially targeted, initially seemingly soft but gradually toughening forms of repression.

Pragmatic repression can be sustained through powerful and one-sided propaganda which creates social support for discrimination against currently picked target groups. This process might seem haphazard at first, but at the end of each action, its systemic nature always becomes apparent.

Between 1998 and 2002, as a conservative, prime minister Orbán stayed within the constitutional boundaries outlined during the transition period. However, since 2010, he has used his qualified majority to write a new constitution and defined himself as opposed to the transition. This is his treason.

He is destroying what he contributed to building thirty years ago.

Comparative conclusions

Having looked through the political careers of the three leaders, Horthy, Kádár, and Orbán, there are some fundamental similarities and a host of differences. What points do they have in common?

None of them was driven by ideas or was a prisoner to ideologies. The Horthy regime was ideological, but the leader it was named after, distanced himself from ideological governance.

As part of the Soviet bloc, in principle, the Kádár regime could not deviate from communist ideology, but in practice it did. Kádár could deviate from the totalitarian ideology of the 1950s through securing the calm of everyday life.

The Orbán regime does not have a coherent ideology, however, it relies on aggressive propaganda: the regime’s pompous ethnonationalism sounds unusual in the European Union whose basic values the Prime Minister now blatantly ignores.

At their full potential, all three leaders were inclined to take a pragmatic approach towards politics.

It was only Horthy who brought a more-or-less solid set of values from home which then he complemented with aristocratic attitudes he learnt in the Emperor’s court. Horthy referred to the “gentlemen’s honour”, while Kádár was a very smart player as a politician who followed the clichés of puritan lifestyle.

For Orbán, the only goal has been to achieve success defined by contingent conditions, which meant gaining both political and economic power. Of the three, it was only Orbán who has used his power to enrich himself and his family. Still, it is also he who has built his image on the folkloristic figure of the “ordinary boy from the countryside”.

All three leaders betrayed their past commitments: Horthy betrayed the king, Kádár betrayed the revolution, while Orbán betrayed democracy. It seems like having flexibly departed from ideals of one’s youth was the recipe for “epoch-making” success. If you turn against your old self, you may enjoy a long tenure in politics.

All three leaders spent their youth in communities built on solidarity, and none of them had a civic profession: Horthy spent his youth in the navy, Kádár in the illegal communist movement, while Orbán in the army and the internal life of the college of advanced studies. Horthy and Orbán were socialised in a macho environment, while this was not obvious in the case of Kádár.

The three of them had to first demonstrate their rigour and aptitude in a narrower, more closed community to then come to power in the life of politics.

Horthy and Kádár came to power as mature men, Orbán as a much younger adult. Kádár and Orbán both entered politics very young, thus they can both be considered “homo politicus”. However, Kádár had to walk a much tougher, rough road to come to power, among extreme circumstances… In comparison, Horthy entered politics much later, and tried to make use of the experience he gained as an adjutant to the Emperor within the context of Hungarian nation-state politics.

Of the three, Kádár was in the most difficult situation at the outset, as the country was the most defenceless and least independent during his time. The decision that he would come to power was made in Moscow, not in Budapest. Paradoxically, Kádár’s room for manoeuvre within the socialist bloc had been expanded by the failed Revolution of 1956.

At the same time, Horthy’s hands were tied by the First World War defeat, the disintegration of the monarchy, and the Treaty of Trianon. Orbán’s room for manoeuvre has been much wider than that of the other two leaders, as he started his second term in government from the position of a winner, with a parliamentary majority qualified to amend the constitution, within democratic boundaries. Hungary had already been a longstanding member of NATO back then, and he could assume the position of the head of government as the leader of a Member State that also received financial support from the European Union.

Orbán has spent the period from 2010 until now on further expanding his room for manoeuvre. The dismantling of the rule of law and of democracy in domestic politics, and the politics of “Eastern opening” in foreign affairs, served his goal.

The hands of Horthy and Kádár were stained with blood, those of Orbán are stained with money. Surveillance has become more important than sanctions. Intimidation of a preventive, invisible kind is more successful than bloody oppression that could be easily broadcast on the Internet as well as on the world’s televisions.

To a certain extent, all three leaders were “peacock dancers”, or to use an old expression, “swing politicians”. From the three, Orbán has for long pursued such foreign policy on a large scale, Kádár followed this strategy at times intensely, at others with moderation, while Horthy only pursued such foreign policy during the last years of his reign. Horthy said farewell with war, hundreds of thousands of victims, a crippled and occupied country, Kádár left a crumbling dictatorship and a (yet) occupied country behind.

Horthy’s life ended in emigration, while that of Kádár in Budapest, in a mentally disrupted state, in a bed, among pillows.

Even within the three periods, the nature of the political establishment was in constant flux. Nevertheless, if we take the most determining elements of each period, we may claim that the era of Horthy was dominated by a traditional electoral authoritarian system which was intertwined with the rule of extreme-right paramilitary forces in the beginning as well as in the end.

During Kádár’s time, the regime was a one-party, post-totalitarian dictatorship which started with retaliation and intimidation, pursued with the neutralisation and atomisation of society, to give in without a fight at the end.

Orbán’s period is characterised by permanent backsliding: first, a democracy, then an illiberal regime was created followed by an electoral authoritarian system, and the downward spiral seems unstoppable so far. None of the previous regimes were torn down through parliamentary means.

Horthy distanced himself from daily political battles; politics was shaped by the prime ministers he nominated. There were prime ministers even in the era of Kádár, but important decisions were made by him, as the country was controlled by the party-state. As a prime minister, Orbán always stands in the frontline and concentrates all power in his hands. Compared to Horthy and Kádár, Orbán’s rule is personalistic. Horthy ruled but did not govern, Kádár ruled and partially governed, while Orbán rules and governs.

Politicians in liberal democracies lose elections from time to time, but that does not surprise anyone, as it is considered by all as part of the normal routine operation of the alternation of parliamentary power. Hungary has not been lucky enough to have the leaders of its political eras re-elected at free and fair elections.

The experience of the past one hundred years demonstrates that those who have launched a new era in Hungary were, or in the course of events became authoritarian leaders.



[1] I do not include Mátyás Rákosi, the Hungarian communist party leader during the Stalinist era on this list, as he followed direct orders from Moscow during his shorter rule (1948-56).

[2]Viktor Orbán in László Kasza: Metamorphosis Hungariae, 1989-94. Budapest: Századvég, 1994: 111.

[3] Interview with István Harmati who was a Fidesz delegate at the 1989 roundtable talks (1997).

[4] Interview with Viktor Orbán (1990).


This article was previously published in Hungarian in Mozgó Világ and in German in Europaische Rundschau.

András Bozóki is a Professor of Political Science at the Central European University, Budapest and Vienna. He has been published books and articles in several languages on Central European politics, regime change, democratisation and democratic backsliding.

Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

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